The Albinor Chronicles Chapter 37 - "Crimson Snow"

by Marcus Pan

Chain Border

April 6, 012

Finally, after a rather harsh winter the weather in the mountains of the dwarven country of Rockhome, it was starting to warm up enough so that the snow cover on the peaks wasn't more than a foot in most areas. Not that it mattered much to this lone traveler clanking his way up the moderate incline in his dented out plate mail. The sun was on its daily descent and the bearded man, a mountain dwarf, was chewing on the end of his braided chin tassel the ground below him leveled off. His cloak was draped around him, although it lie open to the chill wind of the early spring air. He was used to this weather - matter of fact he liked this weather. He breathed it deep, letting the cold seep through him and revitalize his seventy nine year old body. Then he noticed the tracks - boots so it seemed. He looked closer, slowing his previously brisk walk. Dwarven boots - shod with iron in the toes and soled with oil-soaked and hardened leather. The depressions sloped upward in to the level of the surrounding snow - furred around the edges also therefore. Whether for warmth, comfort or show who knows. Who cares? While it wasn't a trail he was on, the land sloping upward and downward and sometimes sharply, it was still a somewhat level track followed often enough between villages here in Rockhome. Dwarves rarely used trails or roads, really. Those were there for the non-dwarven traders that couldn't read the mountains. But the dwarves have lived here since before Albinor's Age Of Beasts and knew these rocky, snow-covered crags well. And this was his land - Gloin's land - for he was king here. He needed no trail to follow through his own land.

For quite some time Gloin traveled o'er his lands through the end of the winter season until now. He traveled it because he had business westward. He also did so because he had sat in the comfort of the rock capitol of Montania for too long. It was right that a man who had won his glory at battle and adventure leave behind the splendor of civilization if only to traipse along the countryside. He had been longing to see his people, shake some rough hands of those that kept his country alive and well in these harsh times. He wanted to see them work and let them know he approved of it. But still - primarily, it was because he missed the cold breezes that awakened him in the weary morn of his traveling youth. When you went higher in the mountains the snow had a different smell - more wild. Untouched and still smooth as glass across the surface of the stone. But here it was touched.

After taking a closer look at the tracks, Gloin followed them around a boulder. He could make out at least three separate impressions in the snow - maybe four. In his travels he had fought off quite a number of ruffians - low level brigands mostly. Bullies - that's all they were. Waiting for someone of his strength and power to show them the error of his ways. He wore finely wrought steel that covered him nearly from head to toe and protected him from their blows. He slew them easily enough. Most wore boots that left impressions like these - furred around the edges for warmth. Figuring that either he'd kill today - and secretly enjoying this possibility as he was, after all, a fighter deep in his heart though he was claimed king now - or he'll get to shake some more cold-cracked hands of his people, he rounded the cliff face that climbed a short distance above him on his right. His armor clanked away as he walked - his bravery lead him to believe that it was better to give up surprise for protection. It works sometimes.

Ah, there they are. Four of them - dwarves in dirty brown tunics and long scraggly beards. Ruffians by the looks. They were looking at him already as he came around the rocks clanking away. Immediately they perceived the novelty of this situation - a lone man in expensively wrought steel and iron. T'was the thought "expensively wrought" that bore the most meaning to them. A loot-ridden man alone - and here they were, the four of them. And their few hundred friends just above on the rise…

It was quite quick, actually. They clutched spears and immediately turned to point them haphazardly at Gloin. He perceived what was to happen and pulled the gleaming and bloodstained axe from his belt. The four advanced and Gloin stepped up to do his heart's bidding - battle to the death. That's when scores more began jumping down from the short cliff above him to the right and suddenly he was taken on all sides. No retreat. But it wasn't retreat on his mind, anyway. It was bloodshed that he thought of, so the more the merrier. And Gloin isn't a man you want to get on your bad side. He was one of the strongest dwarves ever to hold kingship over Rockhome. He was more than happy to prove it again.

It was a fierce battle and a long one. For over an hour he kept smiting men, lopping off arms and blasting his sharpened axe through wooden spear shafts and iron-shod points. They fell one by one, one or more by the minute, yet they kept piling around him. It wasn't luck that helped him win this fight - little of that was needed, at least in the beginning of the battle. Gloin was a lord by level of skill and a king by glory and power. These men learned such quickly as they stepped up, half dozens swinging upon him at a time. But uselessly their weapons sprang noisily off Gloin's full plate. Occasionally they'd reach through the chinks in the armor or the chained joints to cause a pittance of a wound in the man, but for the most part they swung uselessly, were fended off by Gloin's armor and were struck down fiercely by his axe in a single blow of crushing power.

But after an hour of this the blood from Gloin's body began to trickle from beneath his mail. Eventually the trickles sprang into rivulets and then some of the red stains that flashed brightly in the falling sun was that of his own rather than purely that of his enemies. His muscles clenched and railed at the continuous strain. His legs tired from finding footing in the bloody snow, overstepping bodies that fell before him - quite a few of which were no longer whole. Still the brigands kept coming until a sea of them swarmed about him like ants to a pile of sugar. His arms yelled in pain at his two-fisted swings. His shoulders slowed their pace as the battle wore on and for the first time in years Gloin began to wonder about his continued success. Brutal it was.

He kept on swinging - there really was nothing else he could do besides lay down and die before these men. Hundreds there were. By the time an hour went by there were scores of dead dwarves around him and the snow covered mountains of Rockhome looked like the work of a crimson-loving painter. Blood stung his eyes and nestled its nasty taste on his lips. His power was waning and he knew it - so did they. They kept coming. Filling in cracks that he struck down with his axe the way a river would run into the crags and in between the cliffs of his mountains. His arms felt like they were ready to fall off. The men that came forward to continue to do battle with him mayhap were lower in skill and younger in years, but they were fresh. They hadn't fought yet. He had been fighting for an hour already.

Maybe it was the final shot of adrenaline that coursed through his throbbing muscles. Or maybe it was a small push from the soul forge of his patron, Moradin. Nobody will ever know - but it was his final strike. He knew it would be so the moment he rose his arms as much in defeat as in defiance. His axe came up and the spear of the dwarf before him went up likewise in parry. A man behind him jostled for position to pierce his spear forward. He brought the axe head down against the spear and it broke in two in the man's hands. He arced his blade at the right moment, sending it with continuous momentum into his chest. He stepped forward as the blade hit the leather tunic and felt it give beneath him. Then he felt the skin give - and the axe kept going. Gloin yowled in primal defiance and the axe kept going. It struck the breastbone deep within the confines of the man's chest and blood flew with a fury. The axe kept going. It didn't stop when it broke through the breastbone and hit the spine. It didn't stop when the spine snapped like a twig and exited the dwarf's back, his torso twisting in a grotesque spin like a top and falling over while the legs and abdomen still stood. Still the axe continued it's journey and Gloin almost felt like he had to take another step not to continue the arcing slash - but to keep up with it. It burst through the leather and chest of the jostling man behind the first and when it struck his breastbone a spark actually fired in his chest. He dropped to his knees, gurgled and fell over and finally the axe stopped with Gloin still screaming into the late daylight.

The men all stopped. Silence ensued. This was something new - this lone loot-ridden man now became a source of fear for all that witnessed this blow that struck down two of their comrades at once. The axe dripped the blood to the snow and in the sudden silence that gathered them all up and hung about them like lead you could actually hear it. That's when they panicked. They took off in all directions - dying in battle is one thing. Getting split in two like they were a block of lard on a hot stove? That was quite another thing all together.

It was within a minute of their panicking and tearing off in all manner of directions, snow kicking up and swirling in the cold air like a small contained snowstorm, when Gloin fell over. Not dead, no. But exhausted to a point he can't ever remember having been. Everybody's morale dropped like a stone. For his enemies, this falling morale manifested in fear that made them run. For Gloin, this falling morale made all the muscles of his body simply stop. He slept that night in the blood, guts and bones of his kills. He could do nothing else.

It didn't take too long for the knights of Rockhome to round up most of the fear-stricken men that faced their king that day. Few even bothered to put up much of a fight after what they've seen. Those that didn't run away lay in the snow - nearly five score dead by the hand of a single man. Gloin awoke eventually - his axe still gripped in his fists. And he hurt. Countless small wounds had become one aching large one as far as his beaten body was concerned. But he'll heal eventually. But he'll be damned if he'll ever forget this fight.

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